As the Formula 1 circus reaches European shores for the fifth round of the 2016 season at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, it will be joined once again by the GP2 Series, which acts as the main feeder championship with its opening championship event in Spain.

Since the GP2 Series replaced Formula 3000 in 2005, it has thus far provided Formula 1 with 30 drivers. 21 of whom have scored points. Six have been to the podium, three have become race-winners. Two of its graduates are racing for the reigning Constructors’ World Champions, Mercedes, and one – a certain Lewis Hamilton – has won the Drivers’ Championship title no less than three times.

Entering its twelfth season, the GP2 Series promises more wheel-to-wheel action as the equal machinery and the sheer hunger of the young pretenders often provides a grid that is described as “F1 with equal cars”.

The Calendar

This year’s championship returns to the Hockengeimring and the Sepang International Circuit to support the German and Malaysian Grands Prix respectively.

The cancellation of last year’s German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring saw the 2015 calendar feature two visits to Bahrain: one served as the season-opener supporting the Formula 1 Grand Prix, while the second trip was to being the support act for the season finale of the FIA World Endurance Championship.

With the Bahrain Grand Prix already run and done, the GP2 cars’ sole trip to the Middle East will be its curtain-closing round at Abu Dhabi. The other calendar omission is Russia thanks to the earlier-season movement of its Grand Prix.

While Sepang makes its return for the first time since 2013, the championship will have one new addition by visiting Baku’s all-new street circuit next month.

2016 GP2 Series Championship Season Calendar
Dates Supporting Event Location
14-15 May it Spanish Grand Prix Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, Barcelona
28-29 May it Monaco Grand Prix Circuit de Monaco, Monte Carlo
18-19 June az Grand Prix of Europe Baku City Circuit, Baku
02-03 July it Austrian Grand Prix Red Bull Ring, Spielberg
09-10 July uk British Grand Prix Silverstone Circuit, Silverstone
23-24 July it Hungarian Grand Prix Hungaroring, Budapest
30-31 July de German Grand Prix Hockenheimring, Hockenheim
27-28 August au Belgian Grand Prix Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps, Stavelot
03-04 September it Italian Grand Prix Autodromo Nazionale di Monza, Milan
01-02 October my Malaysian Grand Prix Sepang International Circuit, Kuala Lumpur
26-27 November au Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi

The Drivers

The 2016 grid looks as unpredictable as the races promise to be with six rookie drivers joining the series this year and Status Grand Prix’s two seats still remaining vacant.

Reigning champions ART Grand Prix will retain Honda-backed Nobuharu Matsushita for a second year. The Japanese driver showed genuine pace in his debut season with three podiums – including a win in the Hungary Sprint Race – as teammate to 2015 series champion Stoffel Vandoorne. The gulf between the two, however, was vast as Matsushita finished a distant ninth in the Drivers’ Championship standings to the Belgian ace.

He will be partnered by F1 tester Sergey Sirotkin. The young Russian has been affiliated with F1 since being tipped for a Sauber drive in 2014. Since then he has tested with the Swiss squad as well as with Renault at the Russian Grand Prix two weeks ago. He showed great pace in 2015 with five podiums and a win at Silverstone to finish the year in third overall.

Championship runners-up Racing Engineering hope to take ART off their throne with Norman Nato and Jordan King. Nato had an uninspiring year 2015, finishing 18th overall with 20 points. King continues in his second year with the team, after his debut year saw him finish in twelfth place with 60 points. Despite this, the team enters this season with high spirits as they topped the timesheets on all days of the final pre-season test in Jerez.

Williams’ development driver Alex Lynn will continue with DAMS this year after a good run to sixth that included two wins and two other podium finishes. He will be partnered by Nicholas Latifi. The young Canadian will finally get a full-time drive after filling in for Daniel Abt in 2014 and the injured Daniël de Jong for two rounds last year.

Mitch Evans, Campos Racing

Mitch Evans could be one of the dark horses of 2016.

Series veteran Mitch Evans will compete in his fourth season of GP2 Series with Pertamina Campos Racing, moving across from Russian Time. The Kiwi finished last season with six podiums including two fine wins on a strong run to fifth place and will be hoping this will be the year he finally makes a serious bid for the title. Evans will also be competing in the FIA World Endurance Championship. Partnering him will be Sean Galael, whose Indonesian government-owned petroleum company – which also sponsors his compatriot Rio Haryanto in Formula 1 – have propelled him into a full-time drive. Galeal did not impress in 2015, failing to score a point in five rounds, but will be hoping to learn from his experienced teammate and leave more of a mark.

Evans’ departure allowed Russian Time to snatch Raffaele Marciello from Trident. The Italian fell out of favor with Ferrari despite a sometimes-strong season that saw him finish seventh overall in the standings. Russian driver Artem Markelov will continue with his home team after a season that saw him finish on the podium in Belgium.

Rapax have signed Arthur Pic – formerly of Campos Racing – who hopes his third season in the championship will yield more than last year’s eleventh place, while his teammate, Sweden’s Gustav Malja, will hope his first full season in the GP2 Series will deliver more points’ finishes after competing in three rounds last year with Rapax.

Trident will have an all-rookie line-up for 2016 with GP3 Series runner up Luca Ghiotto partnering Indonesian Philo Paz Armand. Armand competed in Formula Renault 3.5 last year while the Italian young talent was very close to the GP3 Series title last year with five wins.

Status Grand Prix are rather late to the party and have yet to confirm a driver line-up after they missing the final Jerez test. They fielded Dutchman Meindert van Buuren and GP2 Series journeyman Sergio Canamasas for the first test in Barcelona, although the mercurial Canamasas has signed on to Carlin for his home race.

Carlin’s lead driver is Germany’s Marvin Kirchhofer, the field’s third rookie driver. Kirchhofer had a brilliant campaign in the GP3 Series last year, finishing third behind Trident’s Ghiotto but tying with the Italian on five wins.

New outfit PREMA Racing impressively led the final two days of the first pre-season test in at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya with Pierre Gasly, as the Red Bull Racing reserve driver enters his second full year and as a hot contender for the title. His teammate will be another rookie, Antontio Giovinazzi. The Italian comes to the GP2 Series having finished second in the FIA European Formula 3 Championship as well as competing in DTM on two occasions.

Dutch outfit MP Motorsport will start the season with the exciting prospect of Oliver Rowland. Rowland, who won last year’s Formula Renault 3.5 championship, also competed in GP2 with Status and MP Motorsport and is backed by former F1 driver Derek Warwick. Alongside the quick Englishman him is Dutch driver Daniël de Jong, who avoided serious injuries with a frightening crash at Spa-Francorchamps and was back behind the wheel just two rounds later with Trident. This year he’s back with his home outfit and will hope his pace will be as strong as his will, with 2015 ending on just the single point to his tally.

Our two final rookies will be partnering in Arden International. Malaysia’s Nabil Jeffri comes from FR 3.5 but with a rather unimpressive record of late, while his teammate, Swede Jimmy Erikssen, had a fantastic GP3 Series season last year where he finished fifth, collecting a win in Russia and two more podium finishes. The British outfit will hope to improve on their woeful 2015 when they finished second-to-last, trailed by the outgoing Hilmer Motorsport team which closed its doors before the end of the season.

2016 GP2 Series – Teams & Drivers
# Team / Entry Driver
1 ART Grand Prix Nobuharu Matsushita jp
2 ART Grand Prix Sergey Sirotkin ru
3 Racing Engineering Norman Nato fr
4 Racing Engineering Jordan King uk
5 DAMS Alex Lynn uk
6 DAMS Nicholas Latifi ca
7 Pertamina Campos Racing Mitch Evans nz
8 Pertamina Campos Racing Sean Galeal id
9 Russian Time Raffaele Marciello it
10 Russian Time Artem Markelov ru
11 Rapax Gustav Malja se
12 Rapax Arthur Pic fr
14 Trident Philo Paz Armand id
15 Trident Luca Ghiotto it
16 Status Grand Prix TBA
17 Status Grand Prix TBA
18 Carlin Sergio Canamasas es
19 Carlin Marvin Kirchöfer de
20 PREMA Racing Antonio Giovinazzi it
21 PREMA Racing Pierre Gasly fr
22 MP Motorsport Oliver Rowland uk
23 MP Motorsport Daniël de Jong nl
24 Arden International Nabil Jeffri my
25 Arden International Jimmy Eriksson se

Technical Stability, for now…

After curiously introducing DRS last season, the GP2 Series will continue to emulate F1 by introducing a new V6 twin-turbocharged engine formula from Mechacrome to replace the company’s normally-aspirated 4.0-litre V8 engine package that has been with the series since its debut in 2005.

It will also be the last season for the Dallara GP2/11 chassis that was introduced in 2011 to emulate the aerodynamic changes in F1 that came in 2009. Its successor will be the Dallara GP2/17 which will come to track next year.

The Form Guide

The GP2 Series always promises an entertaining season because drivers are often connected to F1 drives and want to prove their worth to the people who make the calls.

DAMS looked very promising in testing with both drivers sharing the top spot on two days of pre-season running. Jordan King, however, is linked with Manor and has been their reserve driver all year.

Alex Lynn did a good job last year and with obvious maturity he will be a good bet to finally realize his potential and take it away in 2016.

Pierre Gasly is also in the mix for this year’s title as his Red Bull duties will certainly have honed his skills.

Mitch Evans or the ART pair of Matsushita and Sirotkin can be this season’s dark horse and mix it up at the top, with the latter two more likely as their team was the outfit to beat last year.

But in GP2 it’s anyone’s guess and the only answer is on the track. The action will begin on Friday with Free Practice for the first round of the 2016 GP2 Series season in Spain.

You won’t want to miss it.

Images via GP2 Series Media

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Ahmad Shallouf

Contributing Writer at MotorsportM8